Just as Eskom celebrated the ‘completion’ of its controversial and over-priced Medupi coal-fired power station about a week ago, an explosion rocked the local community of Lephalale in Limpopo Province, on Sunday (8 August) night. Community members and police initially thought it was an earthquake since vibrations could be felt more than 10 km away.

According to Lephalale local Elana Greyling, “For the women in Lephalale and beyond, Women’s Day was filled with stress and uncertainty. We have long been concerned about the situation at Medupi, particularly since, during the last 40 days, there has been dramatic ash leakage at the plant. This has resulted in even poorer air quality than usual. This combination of factors exposes a very dangerous and worrisome situation for our community. We are just thankful that nobody was seriously hurt.”

A founding member of the community-based organisation, the Concerned Citizens of Lephalale, Greyling says, “Medupi is like a serious illness with both chronic and acute symptoms, which will eventually, make everyone around it sick. Already this dud of a project is having huge negative impacts on our community and on top of it all, just like the Matimba power station, Medupi ignores the energy needs of the hundreds of people living in the informal settlement nearby. Can you believe that there are communities that live right next to a high-polluting power station, who do not have access to electricity?”

“We believe that it is time to shut this white elephant down, before government and Eskom pour any more public money into it. Not only is coal dying – in less than a decade this is likely to be a stranded asset anyway – but the deadly air it creates for those of us unfortunate enough to live in this once-beautiful part of the country, has already resulted in the premature deaths of many. And now, with the threat of explosions, the stakes are even higher,” adds Greyling.

She says that the fact that Medupi exists, without having had any real impact on energy security – South Africans are still subject to intermittent loadshedding – is another indictment against this overpriced power station. She adds, “Had Eskom instead invested in renewable energy, using even just half of what was spent on Medupi, South Africa would have been able to improve citizens’ access to affordable and reliable electricity, and we could have been well on our way to dealing with loadshedding, once and for all.”

Further reading: Women In Lephalale Tell of the Harsh Reality of Living Next to Medupi ‘Gentle Rain’.

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